New Delhi: Surfing channels Aug 15 to watch the spin that anchors and panels might give to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, I should be forgiven for feeling a little confused.
As if on wings of magic realism, I was transported from the disorderly tedium of our parliament and, therefore, parliamentary democracy, to the persuasive promises of a presidential system.
This dream sequence was welcome on two counts: it provided an option away from the prime minister's monotone and it seemed an engaging peep show into a presidential possibility at a time of universal disgust with our parliament beginning to resemble a fish market.
The dream sequence I am referring was a show designed to upstage the flag hoisting at the Lal Qila: this was Narendra Modi hoisting the national flag at Lalan College, Bhuj, Gujarat.
Every school, institution, district, state capital has a flag hoisting ceremony on Independence Day. But it must be put down to the spell that Modi has cast on the media that his flag hoisting in remote Bhuj, it was that the media surmounted huge logistical hurdles to cover.
This was unprecedented. Of course, the Red Fort show was a tepid, lack luster ritual. But setting up Modi as a contrast, made the prime minister's charisma deficiencies stand out.
Consider the careful choreography. Modi and his cohorts have been given sufficient time to underline the salient points of the prime minister's colourless presentation.
Rebuttals are prepared. And within an hour of the Lal Qila show, the one at Lalan College, Bhuj, is being telecast live on all the national channels. Manmohan Singh and Modi are placed side by side on the screen, making it look like a dialogue which the prime minister was losing. Having been denied a dialogue with Rahul Gandhi who failed the audition in April at the CII, Modi's managers contrived to pit him against Manmohan Singh.
The great mystery remains. Modi is not the BJP's declared prime ministerial candidate but the electronic media persists in projecting him as one. Asked why was the media was playing him up as the chosen candidate, Arnab Goswami of Times Now retorted, "Please don't have any doubt, he is positioning himself as the prime ministerial candidate; he is the prime ministerial candidate".
Is the media's adoration for Modi explained by his capacity to generate high TRP ratings?
That clearly is not the only reason because the BJP would have to be very stupid to demoralize four of its own chief ministers who are preparing for crucial state elections in November. Picking Modi for the top job so early in the proceedings is to inform them that they are not in contention.
Also, supposing Modi, in defiance of the party line or with its acquiescence, is on a solo run, do you see the absurdity of that proposition? A willful chief minister disengages himself from the known party line and runs unimpeded across the land, even through states where the BJP has high stakes, and he is not checked in his tracks?
Or, that the BJP chief ministers or chief ministerial candidates in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi would not undermine him in their areas of influence? That RSS cadres are working for Modi also does not make sense if you keep the four states in mind. The implication would be that cadres would work against state leaders.
No, friends, it just does not add up. Something else is afoot which the media is constrained not to discuss. After all, how can the media promote a debate on its own machinations?
In "Writing News and Telling Stories" Robert Darnton made a pertinent point that reporters and channels "bring more to the events they cover than they take away from them". At this stage of his evolution, Modi is a media project. I would urge readers to give credence to a story The Times of India published in November, 2007 about a major US Law Firm and lobbyist, APCO, which is engaged in promoting him as prime minister.
There is no great mystery as to who controls the media. The corporates with their multinational linkages do. It follows, therefore, that the corporates endorse the Modi project.
Is Modi, independent of the NDA, a winning proposition in 2014? Ofcourse not. Then what is there in it for the corporates? The gameplan has the merit of enabling Modi and his supporters, to gauge whatever improvement his candidature (but only when it is announced) will have on the improved vote share.
"Bus itni baat hai jiske liye Mahshar bapa hoga?"
(We await Armageddon for this small outcome?)
Modi's popularity among voters may grow but he will scare allies, towards the UPA.
Minorities who, because of their acute disenchantment with the Congress, may have voted tactically to defeat both, will think differently with the Modi "Ogre" looming. A search for power to thwart Modi will condition their voting rather than venting their anger against the Congress.
Is the UPA-III therefore emerging as a beneficiary of the Modi project and therefore the option in 2014?
Every business journalist knows the extent of co-ordination, visible and invisible, that exists between the Congress and the BJP on economic policy. In fact, except the Left, all parties are on board on the economy.
A sinking world economy is not likely to leave a trillion dollar Indian economy exposed to the vicissitudes of chaotic elections alone. To coax economic benefit entails managing the coordination between the two major political parties. Enabling legislations are required to place reforms on track. Somewhere there may be an explanation for the media inspired Modi candidature.